At the age of 40, the Venezuelan Rafael Payare has already in the last few years been named Conductor Laureate of the Ulster Orchestra and Music Director of the San Diego Symphony. Now, just a few days before this concert, he was named as the next Music Director of the Orchestre symphonique de Montréal, effective from the 2022-23 season, with an initial contract of five seasons, to hold the title of Music Director-designate in the 2021-2022 season.

Rafael Payare
© Antoine Saito

His first concert with the OSM since the announcement consisted of one of the orchestra's signature pieces, Berlioz's overture to Le Carnival romain and a standard repertoire piece, Brahms' First Symphony. Musically wholesome and radiant, Payare on the podium looked like a poet at work.

Payare began with one of the pieces that put the OSM on the international map and enabled them to take over the Decca mantle of spectacular sound and color from the Suisse Romande in Geneva under Ernest Ansermet. It has a new hall now since Charles Dutoit recorded for Decca when the performances were more hair-raising, more delirious with love and ecstasy, more like an actual overture to Benvenuto Cellini, from which it takes its themes, and less like the standalone overture it actually was intended to be. Payare treated the foreboding at the opening with a lyrical lightness. He may have asked the strings to keep their phrases more broadly on the bow; he certainly enjoyed the phrasing and tone of the OSM's usual exquisite woodwind solos, the way the cellos led by Brian Manker descended so seamlessly, and the elegant, sleek brass, their principal trumpet Paul Merkelo now nearly as resplendent for Payare as Jim Thompson was for Dutoit.

Rafael Payare conducts the Orchestre Symphonique de Montréal
© Antoine Saito

Payare's Brahms was the OSM's Brahms as well. He found those pivot moments when major and minor come into conflict of particular interest. He loved the broad swaths produced by alternating the string and wind choirs, and there was good deep bass throughout. The sudden build-up back to the recap swelled up with terrifying size punctuated by brilliant timpani eruptions. The Andante sostenuto moved according to an overall serenity of pace and vision, there was a nice sense of urgency to the Un poco allegretto e grazioso, and the finale had an understated nobility and sweep that would have brought the audience to its feet had there been any.  

This performance was reviewed from OSM's video stream